Full article and Q&A at VentureFizz
Kristen Tyrrell is trying to invent things that don’t destroy the world.
“I have always worked with companies whose mission I agreed with and aligned with,” she said. “It almost sounds silly to say, but I think think it is a bit of a shift from how the Boomers and Gen X entered the workforce and what they thought the purpose of a job was. I think more and more people are looking at our role and responsibility in society and the types of things that we build.”
As the COO of Catch, she’s working to build a platform that helps freelancers and contract workers manage finances, save for retirement, get insurance, and more.
The startup is in the very early stages of collecting beta users and is about to enter its first major round of fundraising. At this stage in the Catch journey, Tyrrell is focused not only on making sure that those funds arrive, but on keeping up what she calls activation energy.
“The amount of activation energy that it takes to get that first user can be exhausting,” she said. “Personally, I find that to create something of value that hadn’t existed before is something that very few people actually get to experience. I think that early stage startups give you insight into what it must be like to be an inventor.”
Before joining Catch, though, Tyrrell had to do a little bit of reinvention on herself. She entered her freshman year at Pepperdine University determined to be a lawyer and chose to major in math in part because it was one of the only subjects that didn’t come easily to her. Though she considered dropping it for something more manageable, she chose to stick with the major. An admissions officer at Yale’s law school had told her that a math major would show she could think logically, and a college advisor encouraged her to stick with it and see what happened. Not only did she keep the major, but she also added a second one in economics.
“It showed me, yes, you can struggle. I probably would have had a higher GPA if I had changed majors my freshman year but I really appreciate the value of sticking with it.”
What she didn’t keep, though, was the dream of law school. Tyrrell soon realized that law was less about logic and more about researching obscure facts and other information, a process that didn’t appeal to her at all. When she graduated, she instead enrolled in a one-year master’s degree program in international business. The program began in London and ended in Shanghai, allowing her to travel the world at a time when the economy was struggling - not a bad idea for a 22-year-old, she said.
The math and economics degrees provided her with a strong foundation in logic and analytics that helped her confidently complete the program. With the economy still barely on the upswing, she took the only job offer she had and began interning at IXL Center, a consulting firm in Boston that eventually brought her on full-time. After three years of creating PowerPoints for Fortune 500 companies, though, she realized that she had gotten all she could out of the experience and left for Commonwealth, a socially-focused and not-for-profit fintech company.
“I feel really lucky that I got involved in fintech in a place that was designed to help people,” she said. “It was consumer driven and about how do we use finance to stabilize people’s lives? How do we help people be empowered with the tools and the capabilities they need? It was such a research-based organization that they did that in a way that was not patronizing, that was really designed to understand users.”
The experience at Commonwealth helped her look at customers and clients differently, a major asset at Catch. With such a diverse market to serve, Tyrrell and her coworkers at Catch constantly work on asking users what they need instead of making assumptions. What they need, for now, is an easy way to manage all of the financial matters that freelancers and contractors have to deal with on a daily basis. When a major life event happens, and it’s time to update tax withholdings or purchase additional insurance, Catch is designed to make the process easier and suggest helpful services, like life insurance after the birth of a new baby.
“There’s such a need to make all of these unpleasant things easier to manage easier to understand and put them all in one place to make things organized,” Tyrrell said. “There are all these things you need to do at a time when you’re not sleeping and probably very stressed out about life in general, and there’s not an easy way to do that. We think that’s a huge opportunity that some of the other players are missing because they’re so focused on selling life insurance or opening your 401k, and that’s not how people live their life.”
Tyrrell’s immediate goals involve doing everything she can to make Catch successful, allow it to grow, and ultimately impact the lives of people who need resources like these. She’s mainly focused on expanding the company before competitors in this space can take up market share and is attending meetings in San Francisco with Catch’s CEO to get funding. And while the next stage of Catch’s development is exciting, there’s something about early-stage startups will always have Tyrrell’s heart.
“I think there is always that part of me that will be very attracted to new solutions, new ways of doing things, ways to add value that other people haven’t previously been able to do,” she said.